A brilliant thing I didn’t do

Inside Inside Gov is the clunkily-named tumblr run by one of the teams at GDS. Of the many important things done at GDS that I have had nothing to do with, it’s the one I’m most impressed by.

If you don’t work with me you’ll almost certainly have zero interest in it or why I like it.

‘Inside Government’ was the name given to the section of GOV.UK which plays host to the corporate publishing of government departments. It recently moved the 24th ministerial department over the platform, and has made some headway into moving more than 300 others over.

To get a scale of what that means, the work done now has involved publishing 50,000 documents, closing 222 sub-domains, and rewriting 223 policies in clear, human-readable language.

Doing that is an epic undertaking; communicating with that many stakeholders moreso.

Neil and the team started the Tumblr account as a means of publishing updates about progress, answering questions and describing new features and research instead of emailing that stuff on an ad-hoc basis to thousands of people. It was a very sensible decision. ‘Publish, don’t send’ – have one canonical place to point people at and say ‘Look! Here are the answers to all of your questions! Here is the one true thing, until it is replaced with the next true thing!’ Saying a thing well once has much more power than saying it quickly a hundred times.

What has impressed me, for a few months now, is (basically) Neil. His tone of voice has always been pitch-perfect, and it’s set a standard the rest of the team have done brilliantly to match. This post, published when the last of the ministerial departments moved over, had every right to be valedictory and tubthumping. But it wasn’t. It was humble, to the point, and honest about the challenges his team face. So too this one, a post telling people off.

I don’t know if Neil writes or clears everything that gets published. I haven’t asked him (he told me recently our conversations never take long to ‘get silly’, something I take as a compliment but probably shouldn’t). But it never appears like he does. It just seems like a flow of valuable information, published in a pretty regular and timely way, in terms clear to users and non-users alike. It’s exactly the model we’re going to need services to follow if they want to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard. It’s everything I wish Last.HQ could have made of their blog. It’s brilliant.

I wrote a while back about how a blog ‘should be a lot of work for a lot of people’. What I mean is that distributing publishing authority is the best way to stop bottlenecks. But the best way to stop bottlenecks on a blog, of course, is to publish blog posts. Keep them good, and keep them coming. 

I watch myself worry about publishing the ‘right’ thing an awful lot, but too often I don’t consider that not publishing anything is almost certainly wrong. I just need to write well and often.